The Role of Women in Accelerating Our Clean Energy Future

January 31, 2017

There remains a distinct disparity in the employment opportunities available to women and to men. This unfortunate truth is reflected in various unsettling ways: The rate at which women are hired by employers; the rate at which women are under-promoted; and the gender wage gap, which, in Australia, hovers around 16.2% as of October 2016. Such inequality is the result of numerous factors, including, but by no means limited to, preconceived notions of which people are suited to which roles.

Fortunately, with the discovery and invention of new vocations, positions, and technologies, more progressive views on workforce suitability are being increasingly represented. This is particularly evident in the energy sector. Clean energy is relatively new, and further modes of extracting clean or renewable energy present themselves each year. As a result, this sector of the industry is open to a more counter-traditional worldview: a lack of traditional roles correlates with a lack of gendered stigma.

As with the study of radiation, or the flight patterns that landed the Apollo 11 (advancements pioneered by and programmed by Marie Curie and Margaret Hamilton respectively), what is new or recent seems to come devoid of social stigma, and, absent a biased precedent, allows for a space untainted by traditional gender roles. New systems, such as clean energy, are gradually joining that space.

This effect is reflected in the rate employment of women in the Australian energy sector. While women only constitute 15% of the Australian mining industry, Executive Chair of the World Energy Trilemma for the World Energy Council, Joan MacNaughton, wrote that:

“Estimates for women working in wind, solar, wave and other renewable energies are somewhat higher — as high as 33 percent in some parts of the world, according to the International Renewable Energy Association, in part because these energy sources are still considered new and non-traditional.” (Jun. 2016)

The clean energy sector is gaining rapid traction as the need for clean, renewable energy is becomes increasingly more apparent, and, in certain parts of the world, increasingly urgent. As MacNaughton mentioned, women working in this industry are offered the advantage that it has yet to be traditionalised in a gender-specific manner, relative to similar, older industries. Furthermore, this presents a terrific opportunity to the industry itself.

Industries that incorporate diversity and promote equal gender representation typically out-perform those that do not. In effecting any great change we need to employ the best that we have—and the best includes everyone. Clean energy and renewables is one area in which there is a real and tangible opportunity to create a diverse, united workforce.

Acting to counter pre-existing gendered structures in the clean energy sector will not only benefit women, but also the industry itself, and therefore anyone whom this industry benefits—which is to say, everyone.

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